Home > Uncategorized > Henri Jayer…since none get my t-shirt, here’s an hommage…

Henri Jayer…since none get my t-shirt, here’s an hommage…

Henri Jayer
An obit. from London Times.  Hommage to Henri…
From The Times
September 30, 2006

Henri Jayer

French winemaker who attracted a cult following with his commitment to the genuine article

February 2, 1922 – September 20, 2006

AN ALMOST legendary figure with tiny holdings in some of the best sites in the Côte de Nuits, Henri Jayer made wines which achieved cult status among burgundy fans. His Richebourgs changed hands for fabulous sums that rivalled and even surpassed those from his famous neighbour in Vosne-Romanée, the Domaine de la Romanée Conti. They were believed to be some of the most scented and concentrated of all, and yet gave pleasure almost as soon as they were bottled.Jayer was born in

Vosne- Romanée, the most prestigious village of the Côte de Nuits. Here — in theory, at least — burgundy is at its silkiest, spiciest and most velvety. His father, Eugène, tended his vines like most men in the Côte d’Or. Henri left school at 16 as he was needed to work the family vines, and his brothers had joined the Army. He nonetheless found time to do a little training and eventually received his diploma in oenology. He made his first vintage in 1944.  Jayer’s estate amounted to just six hectares, or 15 acres. He had little bits of the grands crus Echézeaux and Richebourg, as well as three premier cru sites (Les Brûlées, Les Beaumonts and Cros Parantoux) in Vosne-Romanée, as well as less prestigious sites in Vosne and Nuits-St-Georges. His Richebourg was probably the most sought- after of his wines. His plot was just 0.36 hectares — about an acre — in the part of the grand cru called Les Varoilles, which is supposed to make the more elegant wines. In a good year it produced 25 to 50 cases of wine. Cros Parentoux was another “must have”, particularly for collectors in the United States and Japan.

In the Seventies and Eighties the wine world was on the lookout for heroes in Burgundy. For too long the field had been dominated by the large merchant houses. Some had behaved in a responsible manner; others had soaked the soil with fertilisers, stretched yields and doctored their wines with more powerful brews from Africa or the South of France. Wine writers and importers were looking for the sort of honest man who espoused a simple love of the vine and a commitment to genuine, unadulterated wine. That man was Jayer.

On the other hand, Jayer was not in the slightest bit médiatique; he was a simple Burgundian grower who had few fine phrases to impart to shippers and journalists. Most of the time their accolades went over his head.

Jayer was the man from the earth. He would not treat his vines with potassium because, he said, it was hard to get during the war and he liked the results he obtained from not using it. His grapes were small and pithy. Concentration was the hallmark of Jayer’s wines, and the grapes were selected on the vine. He eliminated any material that was rotten or unripe. Only natural yeasts would do, as he thought synthetic ones bred uniformity of taste, and yields were minute. Bunches were completely de-stalked as he thought the stalks added nothing but bitterness. Then the grapes were left to cold macerate for five days before fermentation.

Almost all the wines went into new Tronçais oak barrels from the local firm of François Frères. There were just five rackings and there was no filtration. His burgundy was not black — as some had been in the old days when it was adulterated with Algerian wine — and he asked visitors to admire the “glints of brilliance” that he obtained from his own pinot noir vines: “Like silk fabric flashing in the sun.” All this sounds like a normal description of an upmarket estate today, but in the Seventies the Jayers needed to be winkled out. In those days the trade all too often shopped at the merchant houses and avoided the little men who could not receive them in the way to which they were accustomed.

Jayer’s reputation was at its height in the Eighties. He retired officially at the end of that decade, except that it was an active retirement. Jayer continued to help one of his brothers, Georges, but not the other, Lucien. The Jayer name appeared on all three labels. Jayer’s nephew, Emmanuel Rouget, took over Jayer’s vines, but Jayer’s hand was still recognisable in the quality. He also advised the Méos at Méo-Camuzet in Vosne — another domaine with a cult following.

At the end of his life, Jayer allegedly went back on some of the views that had made him famous and made it clear he believed that terroir amounted to just half of the quality of wine; man was responsible for the rest. His importance was recognised by the State, which made him Chevalier de Mérite Agricole.

He is survived by his widow, Lydie, née Rouget, whom he married in 1942, and two daughters.

Henri Jayer, winemaker, was born on February 2, 1922. He died on September 20, 2006, aged 84.

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